Advisors may be the first to spot the red flags

In 2011, when 90-year-old and long-time entertainer Mickey Rooney recalled his personal experience with elder abuse to the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging, he described it as feeling scared, disappointed and angry. You can view parts of Rooney’s testimony and read more through this link to CNN’s website.

This report calls attention to a grim reality that also exists in Canada:

  • Elder abuse can happen to anyone, regardless of background, age, religion, race, culture, social status or economic means.
  • It can be physical, emotional, sexual or financial.
  • It can come from a spouse, family members (including adult children and grandchildren), friends, caregivers and those in a position of power or trust.
  • It occurs in private homes, retirement communities and long-term care facilities.1

It’s also more common than you might think.

In 2013, the Government of Canada estimated that between four and 10 per cent of Canadian seniors experience some type of abuse but that only one in five cases is reported.2 This reluctance likely stems from the complex and sensitive nature of the problem. Victims often struggle with shame, denial or fear of their abuser’s reaction. For some, family loyalty outweighs their own needs. Others simply don’t realize they’re being abused or that help is available.

Most common form of elder abuse: financial

Government-based website seniors.gc.ca names financial abuse as the most common form of elder abuse in Canada. It can occur at any point in time but is often triggered by a health event or death of a loved one — when loneliness, grief or growing dependence on others can make us more vulnerable.

Some types of financial abuse are blatant acts of theft or fraud. Others are less obvious. Among the offences:

  • misusing or stealing a senior’s assets, property or money;
  • cashing their cheques without their authorization;
  • forging their signature on financially related documents;
  • misusing a power of attorney;
  • sharing a senior’s home or belongings without paying a fair share of the expenses when requested.

Forcing, tricking or unduly pressuring seniors into situations that affect their finances — lending or giving away their money, property or possessions; selling or moving them from their home; making or changing their will or power of attorney — also equate to financial abuse. And as the senior population grows in the coming years, the problem will likely become more prevalent.

The encouraging news is that the federal government (including the National Seniors Council) and organizations such as CARP are addressing the issue, while initiatives such as World Elder Abuse Awareness Day and National Seniors Day raise public awareness. Across the country, victims can access various resources and hotlines. So can those who know about or suspect abuse — including advisors.

According to Financial Abuse of Older Adults,3 people who work in the financial services industry may be the first to recognize financial abuse because of their proximity to clients’ accounts, trusts and financial documents. Signs of possible financial abuse cited by this report — all of which must be explored before drawing firm conclusions — include:

  • significant withdrawals from accounts;
  • suspicious looking signatures on cheques or other paperwork;
  • sudden changes in a senior’s financial situation;
  • account statements no longer being sent to the senior’s home;
  • unexpected changes to a will, power of attorney or policies;
  • the unexpected sale of a senior’s home;
  • no recollection of signing documents or making certain money transfers;
  • apprehension or fear when discussing money matters.

Financial abuse is a difficult reality but there is support — for victims and those who can help. Find out more at www.seniors.gc.ca or call 1 800 O-Canada (1-800-622-6232).

1 http://www.seniors.gc.ca/eng/pie/eaa/elderabuse.shtml#b

2 http://news.gc.ca/web/article-en.do?m=%2Findex&nid=749849

3 Teresa Lukawiecki. Financial Abuse of Older Adults. National Clearinghouse on Family Violence, 1999.

Originally published on Advisor.ca